Incorporating Virtual and Augmented Reality in Libraries

Library Technology Reports, August-September 2018 | Go to article overview

Incorporating Virtual and Augmented Reality in Libraries


Virtual reality and augmented reality (VAR) were previously inaccessible to libraries because of their high costs and specialization in private fields. While many still don't have access to virtual and augmented reality, it has become possible for libraries to provide access to these technologies. (1) Thanks to the production of cheaper headsets, libraries are able to create virtual reality experiences for their users. Many libraries check out smaller devices, such as Google Cardboard, but others have created stations with permanently mounted headsets, such as the HTC VIVE or the Oculus Rift. I surveyed a variety of libraries across the world to discover the current state of VAR programming and adoption. I received a total of 101 responses, although it should be noted that multiple individuals from the same institution may have taken the survey.

Survey Results

Of the responses, 64 percent of the respondents were from some form of academic library, whether that was a four-year college, a university, or a community college. The remaining responses came from public libraries, school libraries, and special libraries. The survey was aimed at all libraries, regardless of whether they had implemented virtual or augmented reality programs or not. Of the respondents, 44 percent had some form of virtual or augmented reality experience available in their libraries. Of the remaining respondents, 34 percent stated that they are either in the beginning stages of creating a program or are interested in starting one in the future. Of those libraries that have or would like to start a VAR program, most of them are either public or academic libraries in four-year colleges.

Many library staff and faculty that were surveyed also indicated that they had no intention of starting a program, citing a myriad of reasons. The most common reason was either a lack of interest within the library itself or opposition from colleagues. It is interesting to note that many of the respondents said that their students or users were very interested in virtual reality; however, it was the lack of library-wide buyin that precluded them from starting to plan a space. Despite this, a few who responded said that there was no need for the library to create a program because their patrons were getting access to VAR equipment through another venue, whether that was through an on-campus information technology initiative or a local government-run area that featured gaming and VAR. Those who stated that they had no intention of implementing a VAR program also made no mention of budget being a limiting factor, which was interesting because many libraries are currently facing budget crises. (2) This further illustrates that although there is a great deal of interest in virtual reality, it is often put on hold because of lack of support within the library or governing body itself.

Of those libraries that stated they did have a VAR program, the ways that the program was implemented varied across the respondents. The most popular devices that are currently being used across libraries are the HTC VIVE, Oculus Rift, and Google Cardboard. When looking at the history of virtual reality as mentioned in chapter 1, it is not difficult to understand why these would be the most popular devices. The Oculus Rift was the first affordable fully immersive virtual reality headset that was available on the market. In fact, many libraries, including my own, obtained access to the Oculus Rift while it was being developed, working with flawed developers' kits. While the Oculus Rift is still considered one of the best virtual reality devices in its final headset form, it was surpassed over the last couple of years by the appeal of the HTC VIVE. (3) The VIVE, and spefically its update Pro version, is a comprehensive headset that has better optics and motion sensing than the Oculus and has therefore become one of the leading virtual reality headsets. (4) Unlike the Oculus Rift, which went through many development versions after being funded through Kickstarter, the initial consumer release of the HTC VIVE was reasonably priced and arrived around six months after the first developer kit was released. …

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